Article on Municipal Reform

So, I’ve got an article on Bernews today, written in reaction to the Municipal Amendment Act 2015 (no.2).

While I don’t comment on the articles themselves – as I find that completely derails the conversation even more than usual – I do occasionally break that commandment of the internet and read the comments on them. I do this primarily because I look forward to constructive criticism, added information or generally get some ideas on how to improve my writing style.

City Hall

City Hall

I must admit quite often I find the comments confusing at times – I find it difficult sometimes to really understand where some of the comments are coming from.

Perhaps the article wasn’t clear enough, or perhaps people are just reacting to it through a prejudicial lens and as a result are simply seeing something there that either isn’t there or I myself am self-blinded to?

What I’ll try and do here is respond to some of the main questions or comments that seem to be raised in the comments section, for the sake of an attempted clarification.

1) Do I think Team Hamilton worked out?

No – and I’ve been critical of Team Hamilton over the years. I, like many others, had some high hopes for them, but was disappointed by several of the more questionable actions taken by them. I don’t, however, fully blame them, and I think some of the coverage has only portrayed part of the story.

Take for example the whole car-parking fiasco (clamping, etc). As far as I can tell, the fault here lies with the Government, not City Hall. City Hall appears to have taken all the necessary responsible actions to try and follow the law concerning clamping. However, the hold-up came from Government in not Gazetting it properly – as I understand the situation. Government could have easily resolved that fiasco, but I almost feel as if Government were deliberately holding it up to apply pressure on an administration they had issues with. That’s just how it seems to me.

It’s also clear that City Hall was having cash flow problems resulting from the loss of wharfage fees that was a consequence from the Municipal Amendment Act 2010. Getting tough on parking issues – via clamping – was supposed to help alleviate those financial pressures, but…

I don’t think Team Hamilton was all that bad however. I think they did quite a lot of good work amongst the bad, and in particular I commend them for the work they undertook at Princess Street and Ewing Street, as well as the initiative they took to increase footfall along Court Street.

And just because Team Hamilton wasn’t all that great, does not justify, in my opinion, the undermining of municipal democracy, which several of the OBA’s reforms have done, especially this current one. There were alternatives to improving the system, rather than thoroughly undermining it like the Government has.

Essentially though, in answer to this question, criticism of the current direction of the OBA does not translate into full support for Team Hamilton. Things aren’t that black and white and it’s a mistake to interpret such criticism so simplistically.

2) The business vote…

A number of comments have focused on my reference to the business vote, and seem to have thoroughly misunderstood what I was saying here.

Yes, I’m skeptical of the business vote, but that’s not really the point I was making. I do have concerns that with the introduction of the business vote, in the weighted way they’ve done it, it’s handed the business vote an effective veto on the city council – it’s handed majority power to the business vote (in St George’s it’s the reverse). I am disappointed, as I say in the article, that the interests of both business and residents has not been balanced – rather the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction, away from residents and to business. If we are going to have a business vote, then I think they should be balanced on the council, not weighted in such a way that one dominates the other.

This also speaks to the comment that ‘his claim about non-resident reps is a lie’. I never said there weren’t any resident representatives on the City council – no where in the article do I say that. I simply say that the interests of the two blocks of voters (residents and businesses) have not been balanced; that the business vote dominates and controls the council under the new system.

3) Why didn’t he demand the release of the $800k PLP municipal report under the PLP? And where was he before the OBA Government?

I did.

This poster either hasn’t bothered to fact check or simply doesn’t care. Either way, they are simply mistaken and creating misinformation, be it intentional or not.

This same commentator wonders why there were no continuous sit-ins or protests or articles from me under the PLP.

Well, there were articles of me, critical of the PLP before the OBA came to power. Most of those articles were online here, but there are plenty of formal media articles where I express crticism of various actions the PLP took when in power.

I also think it’s important to note that I really didn’t get involved in politics, in a local active sense, until around 2006. While in the Regiment (2003-2006) I felt it was inappropriate to be actively involved, rightly or wrongly.

Also, social media (for which I owe a lot of whatever public profile I have, through this blog primarily) only really got off the ground around 2006 or so – this site itself dates from 2007. Bernews itself only dates from 2010, and the rise of Facebook as a site for political discourse only really developed around that time too, and especially only since 2012.

Beyond that, in 2007 I decided to pursue a career change and realised I’d need to go back to school for that – and so I left in August 2008 for post-graduate studies, and was off island until June 2011. So I couldn’t really be organising protests or sit-ins in Bermuda while I was overseas – although I did continue to write on this site.

And it was only towards the end of 2012, with the election, that I gained a certain degree of a public profile that led to my being able to write articles outside of this site – and also with the changes to social media that occurred around that time that I realised it might be necessary to move beyond posting on this site only.

4) The business vote was not controversial!

I think the commentator has a different definition of controversy than I.

That it has exercised some of the most passionate debates around democracy, and was involved in the genesis of protests and angry exchanges in parliament, both under the PLP and the OBA, indicates to me that it is controversial. To the commentator it may be a matter of common sense that there be a business vote in municipal elections, but that’s got very little to do with whether that policy is or isn’t controversial in our political context.

[There’s plenty links I could post to articles on this controversial policy, both for and against – I’ve only included two to indicate that there are clear divisions on it.]

Again though, the business vote wasn’t the focus of the article…

5) Starling’s biased against the OBA!

I’m constantly amazed by this insight. Of course I’m biased against the OBA, that’s hardly a secret. My ideological position (Marxism) is inherently opposed to the OBA which is very much a political manifestation of our local bourgeoisie. Is it any wonder that I’ll be biased against them?

Bias in and of itself is not a problem. If anything it’s only when one’s unaware of ones bias that it’s a problem – my bias is explicit.

I write as a political commentator, not as a neutral political journalist. I have an angle, I have an ideology. I have no obligation to be objective in my treatment of the OBA – I’ve never claimed to write as a neutral, only as an independent – independent of both the OBA and the PLP. Sometimes my positions align with the PLP, sometimes they align with the OBA (on various social issues and political reforms – although the OBA haven’t moved on any of the political reforms I share with them). Often they align with neither, but as the OBA’s in power they’re the focus of my critique.

This same commentator also repeats the lie that I failed to criticise the PLP ‘at every turn throughout their 14 years of mismanagement’ – which as I touch on in point 3 above is patently false and more misinformation.

Missing the point…

Pretty much every commentator has completely missed the central point I was making in the article, which is that the Municipal Amendment Act 2015 (no.2) fatally undermines any notion of a functioning municipal democracy. It gives the Minister the power to assume direct control of the municipality solely on the Ministers subjective belief that such is necessary.

St George's Town Hall

St George’s Town Hall

No objective test is required for the Minister to take such action. The Minister can simply decided that ‘it is his belief’ that s/he needs to take control of the municipality. As the Minister is not accountable to the municipal voters – be they business or resident – it is an affront to democracy and renders municipal self-governance a pointless exercise.

Those commentators taking me to task about the business vote – and why they should be represented – seem blind to the fact that this amendment essentially makes all votes, whether they’re business or residential, meaningless.

Perhaps that got lost in between the additional points, that of an ad hoc and chaotic series of reforms (five in two and a half years) that demonstrates a policy failure on the part of the OBA, and that no such reforms should happen while there are some serious allegations that touch on the very municipal reforms (motives and process) that the OBA have and are doing.

The central point though is that this current amendment essentially abolishes the municipalities from a democratic perspective – it neuters them to, at best, a Quango, and is an insult to all municipal voters.



5 thoughts on “Article on Municipal Reform

  1. “This same commentator also repeats the lie that I failed to criticise the PLP at every turn throughout their 14 years of mismanagement’ – which as I touch on in point 3 above is patently false and more misinformation”.

    The same criticism was levied at you frequently on BIAW as I am sure you recall.

    I wouldn’t argue that you were critical of the PLP at times; you were. But – I do think it is fair to say that you were “kinder” to the PLP than you currently are to the OBA. Kinder in the sense that you frequently gave them the benefit of the doubt over their actions and over what they said publicly. I recall expressions like “maybe what they meant was”….etc. You often appeared to give them the benefit of the doubt whereas with the OBA you do not.

    Your critiques of the OBA do come across as swift and at times harsh; a sort of “straight to the jugular”. Maybe that just comes down to the fact that their ideology is so far removed from your own, whereas (arguably) you were closer to the PLP in terms of your politics.

  2. The latter (greater ideological distance), as well as having alternative links with the PLP to voice criticism which I do not possess regarding the PLP, plus the threat of a return to power of the UBP/OBA was a great concern. Also, I understood the language of the PLP, on the matter of race, so saw my role there as sort of a translator.

    Nonetheless, I pulled no punches and was vocal in opposing things I saw as problematic, including calling for resignations when I felt it warranted.

  3. Was thinking some more on your comment Mike.

    When this blog started, it was a rarity in Bermuda’s blogs which were dominated by anti-PLP blogs, and this was (is) the same for the forums, notably BIAW. Online political discussion was nowhere near representative of ‘real life’ and gave a very one-sided perspective. The move to FB conversations have given some greater balance there now. But at the time it was very much anti-PLP, online discussion.

    I sought to provide a balance and to counter what I saw as unfair attacks on the PLP, while at the same time not holding back from criticising the PLP when I felt it warranted. Indeed, this blog began life as a self-declared pro-PLP site (I was an active member of the PLP at the time).

    I have found it somewhat curious that the main anti-PLP blogs, namely and Vexed Bermoothes chose to simply cease writing shortly after the OBA came to power. I had hoped that they would have provided an independent, but close to the OBA, commentary.

    The reasons for their decision to cease blogging remain a mystery to me, but it is unfortunate. All the same, this blog – when reading posts from those years – should be seen in the context of an overwhelmingly anti-PLP dominance of online discussion and positioned itself to attempt a rebalancing accordingly.

    It would be nice to see if independent pro-OBA blogs will emerge going forward.

  4. Just for the record. Like you, I go back to Limey. I recall Phil saying to you that he would help you set up a blog. I was also a long time contributor to BIAW, joining at the time they were debating whether to close it down due to lack of interest (which you might recall) – and then it literally “took off” as you know. I no longer post there, probably because the “big debates” if I can call them that, became exhausted and – at times – very personal in nature.

    It is very interesting that both Politics and Vexed no longer function, although Christian did say at one time that he clearly believed he was being harassed – which may have assisted his thought processes. That you may recall too.

    On the wider issue, I am somewhat amazed that there is even room for a more serious and analytical debate here in Bermuda. And, to that extent, I remain somewhat surprised that you continue to blog – but I for one welcome it.

    I said in a recent post of yours, that politics here is sensationalist based. It is also crude and lacking in intelligence for most of the time. Having a serious debate about either the PLP or OBA, is like having a serious debate in the US about gun ownership. It’s almost a none starter. And, I don’t ever see that changing.

    Now it is not all bad news – as from time to time, there are examples of fairly sensible exchanges; on the RG articles for example. But they are few and far between. I sometimes think the level of dialogue could be lifted if many of the articles refused comment – but maybe I am wrong on that.

    Just my 2c as someone used to say.

  5. “Contrary to popular belief – I’m not as black as you might think, but I am black”. – MP Zane DeSilva, HOA during MTA, 17th. June, 2015.

    JS – I’ve removed a link contained in this comment, as is my prerogative.

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